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In an opinion piece for the Financial Times, Edward Luce argues that although it is unlikely for fascism to come to America, “martial law, or something close to the militarisation of America’s cities, is plausible.” Luce further posits that some danger lies in the unlikelihood of President Donald J. Trump’s re-election, as he believes this might push Trump to desperate, undemocratic measures.

  • Luce observes, “In the past few days, residents of Washington D.C. have become familiar with the low-flying helicopters, sand-coloured Humvees, nightly curfews, and uniformed men that go with military control.”
  • He suggests that if these scenes took place in a foreign nation, the activity would be more highly scrutinized, but that currently Americans are “too dazed by the novelty to gauge the risk.”
  • Luce notes that on June 3, Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordered troops moved out of the Washington D.C. area, disavowing military control of cities. Esper said, “I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act… to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort… We are not in one of those situations.”
  • However, Esper’s order was reversed on the same day. Whether Trump had a role in the reversal is unclear.
  • On June 1, Attorney General William Barr ordered police to “clear the square in front of the White House.” Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany asserted in a June 3 press briefing that this was not at Trump’s orders and was done to expand the perimeter around the White House.
  • However, Luce observes that immediately after the square was cleared, which according to ABC News’ video coverage took place about twenty minutes prior to the curfew, Trump and several of his administration walked across the square for a photo op in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church. Luce accuses Trump of being “a weak man posing as a strong one” and of ordering the protestors removed in reaction to “mockery that the Secret Service had taken Mr Trump down to the White House bunker as protesters gathered around its perimeter.”
  • Luce asserts there is hypocrisy in Trump “threatening to use powers that he does not have, such as sending the army into the streets” even though he had been “refusing to use powers he does have, such as marshalling a national response to coronavirus.”
  • Luce claims that “Most of those protests are peaceful.”
  • Vox asserts that by the morning of June 4, “While there were reports” of attacks on law enforcement and seizures of property in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Atlanta, Georgia, “most reports of provocations and violence were of attacks and unsafe tactics carried out by police in cities around the country.”
  • U.S. News also reports that on June 4, California authorities “praised the thousands of peaceful protesters who thronged streets around the state” after announcing criminal charges for about 100 individuals for rioting and looting.

Luce posits that “the point of all this” is best understood by viewing “these images through the lens of reality television.”

Luce argues that Trump

wants Americans to believe that the White House is threatened by domestic terrorists, arsonists, thugs, looters and killers—words he has used frequently in the past few days. US stability is under threat, he claims. The president’s life, and those of decent law-abiding Americans, are threatened by the extremists on the streets. That is the gist of Mr Trump’s message. But it requires a visual backdrop. Hence the hyped-up situation in Washington.

Luce observes that Trump’s “poll numbers are dropping.” After “avoid[ing] a real crisis in his first three years,” he now “has three on his hands” and “The chances of Donald Trump being re-elected in November are not very high.”

Luce concludes,

These are the actions and inactions of someone with little interest in governing. But Mr Trump does have a burning desire to be re-elected. In his mind defeat would lead to the dismantlement of the Trump Organization and his prosecution and possible imprisonment.

Faced with a choice between sabotaging American democracy or a future spent in and out of court rooms, I have no doubt where Mr Trump’s instincts would lie. It would be up to others to stop him.

Read Luce's opinion here.